With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see why Google Glass failed as an idea. The world wasn’t ready for them yet. The idea of augmented-reality glasses that you can wear as comfortably as your normal glasses is interesting, but back in 2014, when Google was trying to sell people on the format, there weren’t enough things that you could do with them to make them worth buying. Even ‘Pokemon Go’ – the game that’s been credited with bringing the concept of augmented reality to the masses – hadn’t been invented yet. Google’s glasses were heavy, cumbersome, lacked style, and lacked purpose. It wasn’t a surprise when they were quietly scrapped less than a year after they became available.
The failure of Google Glass served as a warning to all of the tech company’s rivals. It cost the company millions of dollars, and although Google has the financial resources to weather such a storm, multi-million dollar mistakes aren’t the sort of thing that investors like to see. The head of Google’s research lab was dragged out in public to apologize for the failure of the project, and any other company thinking about launching AR glasses in the near future decided to stall their plans for a while. It was always inevitable that someone would eventually bring the idea back for another try, and it was just as inevitable that it would be Apple. Based on the news that’s been taking the world of technology by storm during the past few days, 2020 might be the year Apple tries to make it happen.
The ongoing battle for technological supremacy between Google and Apple has been raging for a long time, and won’t end any time soon. Each time one of the companies does something or buys something, the other makes a move to counter it. We saw it last year with the launch of Google Stadia – a cloud-based game streaming platform that works in a similar fashion to online slots websites. No individual player ‘owns’ any of the games they play Online Slots UK on website; they just pay per spin and use the website to access the games as if it were a portal. Stadia offers the same experience, with games played through the internet, but stored on servers elsewhere. Google’s theory is that if online slots can make billions of dollars despite being less popular than video games, streamed video games should be able to make more. No sooner than Google had introduced Stadia, Apple hit the market with its ‘Apple Arcade’ – another cloud-based game streaming service that works on roughly the same idea.
Video games are a comparatively low-risk endeavor for either company. Almost everybody, to some extent, plays video games. There’s a pre-existing audience of millions of people all over the world who buy and play video games. No such audience exists for ‘smart’ or augmented-reality glasses. When Google tried to create one, they failed. It’s bold of Apple to assume that they can succeed where Google crashed and burned, but they’re going to try anyway. Apple’s AR spectacles are definitely on their way – and there’s increasing speculation that they’re going to make a surprise appearance this year. If they do, what might they have that Google’s similar product lacked?
We wish we could give you a detailed answer to that question. Although patents were filed in 2015 and then re-filed in 2017, Apple has been keeping the development of its Apple Glass project under wraps, and jealously guarding any information that might give tech fans an idea of how they might work. There’s been speculation that they might only be available for iPhone users, with the phones doing much of the processing work for the glasses and thereby reducing the size and weight of the technology attached to the glasses, but at this stage, that hasn’t been confirmed or denied. If Apple does have something up its sleeve – and it would be strange for this much speculation to be circulating online if they didn’t – it may not give it away until after the launch of the iPhone 12, which is currently the company’s biggest project. That’s understandable. With a new phone to sell, it makes sense to keep the public’s attention on that for now and to switch it after the launch event is out of the way.
In the absence of any solid information, there are plenty of rumors to look at – some of which have been triggered by interesting patents that Apple has filed recently. One such patent described a lens device that could broadcast an image directly onto the lens of a user’s eye rather than displaying it on the lens of a pair of glasses. The technical name for the device is a catadioptric optical system, and the corresponding patent was filed in February 2020. Could that be part of the Apple Glass design, or might Apple even be designing smart contact lenses?
Whether or not Apple has a striking, workable design for its AR glasses is almost irrelevant if the company can’t find a use for them. The biggest problem with selling AR glasses to the public in 2020 is likely to be the same as the problem that came with trying to sell AR glasses to the public in 2014 – there isn’t a need for them. AR is more widely used today than it was six years ago, but it still doesn’t have a vital public function. We can use AR on our phone screens to see how a sofa might look in our home, or how a carpet might look on our floor. Google even allows us to project an image of a full-sized animal into our living spaces to get a sense of their size and shape. All of that is very entertaining, but we’re not yet at the point where AR assists us with any aspect of our day to day living. Until such a purpose comes along, it’s hard to see how the average consumer could justify spending upwards of five hundred dollars on a pair of glasses that don’t do anything that their phone screen can’t. If Apple is about to announce Apple Glass, it’s to be hoped that they also announce a reason to buy it.